HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) – Lawyer Ron broke quickly to the lead – faster than jockey John McKee had planned.
It was as if the horse couldn’t wait to show off his speed in his final Kentucky Derby tuneup.
“He got real aggressive with me going into the turn. Fortunately enough there was some room to get through the hole, and he just kind of took over the race,” McKee said. “I thought I would be third or fourth, mid-pack. We had to go to Plan B after that.”
Plan B led to the same result as usual. Lawyer Ron moved ahead at the start of the backstretch and never looked back, winning the $1 million Arkansas Derby on Saturday for his sixth straight victory. Trainer Bob Holthus’ chestnut colt is now 7-for-7 lifetime on dirt – and remains one of the favorites to win three weeks from now at Churchill Downs.
The last two Arkansas Derby winners – Smarty Jones in 2004 and Afleet Alex last year – each went on to win two legs of the Triple Crown. Holthus hopes Lawyer Ron can continue the trend.
“They’re both talented – all three of them are – and hopefully we can follow in their footsteps,” he said.
Lawyer Ron had already won Oaklawn Park’s first two big prep races for 3-year-olds – the Southwest in February and the Rebel last month. He was a heavy favorite all week and paid $3.00, $2.60 and $2.20.
Steppenwolfer, the runner-up in the Southwest and third in the Rebel, was second in the Arkansas Derby, 2 3/4 lengths behind. He paid $4.40 and $3.20.
Third-place finisher Private Vow paid $3.60.
With a record crowd, announced at 72,484, cheering him on, Lawyer Ron bumped into With a City at the start. But he was safely near the middle of the pack toward the inside going into the first turn.
That wasn’t a problem. Lawyer Ron moved quickly to the front around the turn and led by a length at the half-mile mark. From there, McKee was able to keep him ahead of the other 12 horses.
Private Vow made a bid down the stretch, but Lawyer Ron immediately pulled away at McKee’s urging.
“In the stretch I was a little concerned and hit him a couple times and he just took off and I was like, Wow!”‘ McKee said.
The 71-year-old Holthus, a Hot Springs resident, has been racing at Oaklawn since 1953. His only other Arkansas Derby win came in 1988 with Proper Reality.
Holthus has had four Kentucky Derby horses, but this one could be his best shot at a win.
Lawyer Ron is ranked No. 3 in the NTRA 3-year-old poll behind Brother Derek and Barbaro. His team came prepared this weekend with black “Lawyer Ron” hats, with the scales of justice logo above the horse’s name.
Lawyer Ron’s owner, James T. Hines Jr., died in February. The horse’s winnings go into a trust overseen by Ron Bamberger, the lawyer the colt is named after.
Lawyer Ron covered the 1 1/8-mile race in 1:51.38 on the fast track, the slowest Arkansas Derby since 1982.
Sinister Minister best at Blue Grass
Trainer Bob Baffert has a third horse for the Kentucky Derby.
Sinister Minister stormed out of the starting gate and was never challenged in cruising to 12-length victory in Saturday’s $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes.
Baffert, a three-time Derby winner, will have three chances to win No. 4 at Churchill Downs on May 6. The white-haired trainer also will send Wood Memorial winner Bob and John and Santa Anita Derby runner-up Point Determined to the Derby.
Sinister Minister’s win was a huge surprise before a crowd of 30,660 on a hot, sunny day.
Bluegrass Cat, trying to rebound from a second-place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby, went off as the favorite but never threatened and finished fourth in the field of nine 3-year-olds.
First Samurai, winner of the Fountain of Youth Stakes last month via disqualification, finished fifth in a final major prep before the Derby.
Sinister Minitser, second in the California Derby in his last start, covered the 1 1-8-miles in 1:48.85, and returned $19.40, $9.20 and $5.80. Storm Treasure returned $47.80 and $16 for second, with Strong Contender finishing third and returning $4.80 to show.
Bluegrass Cat was fourth, followed by First Samurai, Seaside Retreat, Sadler’s Trick, Little Cliff and Court Folly.